"From an individual battle it’s going to be great to watch those guys go at each other."

6 Sep

Photo: Perth Wildcats Media

He’s already a highly touted NBA Draft prospect, but Next Star Alexandre Sarr need look no further than a fellow Perth Wildcats teammate as the perfect example of what to expect at the professional level.

Keanu Pinder is a two-time Most Improved Player and one of the stars of the NBL. And this year, he and Sarr will work together in what looms as arguably the most lethal big man combination in the league.

During pre-season, they’ve been going head-to-head at practice, and Wildcats coach John Rillie can’t help but be excited by what he’s seen. 

“From an individual battle it’s going to be great to watch those guys go at each other, because they are unique with their skill-sets,” Rillie said. 

“Keanu’s very agile, athletic, mobile, where Alex is obviously mobile, but 7’1 and brings a different presence and look to our team.

“They’ll certainly push each other; Alex having to defend Keanu every day will really prepare for him for someone he’s going to have to defend nightly in the NBL.

“Alex just brings a great dynamic to our defence, with the way that he can anchor and protect the rim.”

It’s likely the pair will line up together for the first time on Thursday morning, Australian time, as the Wildcats come up against the NBA G-League Ignite in Las Vegas. 

Face, back and groin injuries have hindered Pinder’s pre-season progress until now, but he’s finding fitness right at the perfect time, with just three weeks until NBL24 tips off. 

“Keanu’s had a disruptive off-season … he looks pretty good. Hopefully he’ll be available for Wednesday too,” Rillie said. 

Fellow recruits Ben Henshall and David Okwera are also set to be in action, while Corey Webster will return after missing both the FIBA World Cup and the club’s pre-season games against an NBL1 West Select team. 

Hyrum Harris impressed for the Tall Blacks over the past fortnight, and is sure to be eased in after a demanding tournament. 

“At the tail end of the World Cup he [Harris] got to play some meaningful minutes for New Zealand and did a great job, so I’m really excited to see how he fits in with our group," Rillie said.

“We’ll manage him but he’ll certainly be playing. I’m sure he’s hungry to get out there and join his new team.”

For Sarr, it’s a chance to pit himself against several fellow draft hopefuls, with Ignite’s Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis projected as the top two selections in a recent 2024 NBA Mock Draft, published by Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo. 

Sarr was ranked as the 19th overall pick in that article, but has been projected as high as pick eight by The Athletic. 

The Wildcats will take on NBA G-League Ignite on September 7 and 9 from 11am AEST.

Fans can watch both games live and free on the NBA App. 

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